The Process of Picking Favorites

What’s your favorite video game? We don’t know either.

“What’s your favorite video game?”

As a gamer and as a games writer, this question comes up countless times. It usually is an easy enough question to answer. A gamer’s favorite video game doesn’t change very often. My favorite? Super Mario World. However, there comes a time where you have to think about your cherished memories . Is this brand new experience actually better than your current favorite? How much of your choice is driven by sheer nostalgia? Does it really matter when it comes to your feelings?

I started thinking about the process of picking favorites when I was asked an innocent enough question in Discord. The current conversation was about RPGs, and delving into the rather daunting genre. I eventually chimed in, and was asked…

“What’s your favorite RPG?”

For me, this is also a rather common question–the genre has been my favorite for nearly two decades, and I’ve written about RPGs at RPG Site for five years. Of course, with that kind of experience comes with a caveat when answering a simple question: your favorite game is more or less a recommendation of what to play. If your friend is planning to get into your favorite genre, or a genre you’re incredibly knowledgeable in, it’s pretty likely that they’re going to start with your favorite titles. In their eyes, it’s the cream of the crop, and why wade through all these other titles when you got a game already?

I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I somewhat mindlessly responded:

“Dragon Quest V. [Wait,] lemme rephrase. It’s currently Dragon Quest V. We’ll see if that changes in a month or so.”

A minute later, I looked at my statement. Hold on, why did I say that? Dragon Quest V has been my favorite RPG for many years, since playing the localized remake on the DS. So why did I go out of my way to add to my typical canned response?

Well, at the time, I was playing a game for review. It was still under embargo, thus my cryptic response, but it was the first time I thought about this game in such a light before. The game was very, very good, but I hadn’t even thought about it dethroning my favorite RPG until right then. So, with the seed planted, I got to thinking…

“Is Dragon Quest XI my new favorite RPG?”

I’ve been a longtime fan of the Dragon Quest series. I first got into RPGs with Pokémon, like so many other young children. After I had played Red and Silver to death, though, I wanted a new monster collecting adventure. I don’t even remember how we learned about it, but my mom grabbed me Dragon Warrior Monsters to stop my grumbling. I fell in love with the game, though I was really bad at breeding decent monsters and beating the game. A little while later, I noticed a familiar name in a copy of Pocket Gamer magazine. “Mom, look, it’s Dragon Warrior!” I cried, pointing at a small preview for the remakes of Dragon Quest I and II on the Game Boy Color. My mother, being the greatest, eventually bought me the game and guide, and my official addiction to RPGs begun in full force.

I have many nostalgic memories of many games of the long-running series. I played Dragon Quest III on the GBC so much I found a near-infinite leveling bug in the game that made the final parts of the game a breeze. I remember waiting on buying Dragon Quest V on the DS because I was tight on funds and “there are copies of DQIV on DS everywhere anyway”, only to fervently search for a copy at a reasonable price mere months later (eventually settling on $50 new at a very shady site). I managed to get four people together to marathon Dragon Quest IX, which without friends can be a bit on the dull side but was a ton of fun with like-minded folks.

Obviously, with favorite games, personal experiences and nostalgia will play a big role in your choices. For my all-time favorite game above, Super Mario World reminds me of fun games with my siblings; of my brothers teaching me how to play video games; of summer days at my grandmother’s house staying in from the hot sun to play more. But Super Mario World isn’t just a bundle of memories–even removed from nostalgia, it’s a very good game in its own right, with fun levels and tight platforming making the Super Nintendo title age well.

But can the same be said of most of the games in the Dragon Quest series? The games always relied on their old-school mentality when other series like Final Fantasy innovated, so the differences between say, the first and sixth game of the series may not be a grand as one would assume. The series didn’t really start innovating until Dragon Quest VIII, and even then the PS2 RPG was mostly a massive facelift with many of the same mechanics.

Dragon Quest V stood out for me because of the story the game told. I’ve been of the opinion that generally, the plotlines of the series aren’t all that great, but Dragon Quest V has an emotionally gripping tale to propel you through the title. When I finally got to play the game in English, I was blown away by what was originally a Super Famicom title’s story beats. Not even the more modern games of the series came close to DQV’s gripping tale… until Dragon Quest XI came along.

Dragon Quest XI enters that elite group of series titles that has a fantastic plot. DQXI really doesn’t pull any punches, and like DQV, isn’t afraid to defy your expectations. However, DQXI has the advantage of both the modern era of gaming and additional years of game development experience for the time, which assists greatly with the game telling its story as intended. This modernization also seeps into the mechanics, walking the tightrope of modernizing while still retaining that old-school flair.

But is it fair to name such a recently released game as your favorite? A newly released game will be at the forefront of the mind, while older games could be played years past. When does recency bias get in the way of rational decision-making? But at the same time, when does nostalgia get in the way of seeing how a game has aged? It’s a difficult balance, but at the end of the day, it’s your opinion, and your feelings that matter. The games you enjoy most are going to be your favorites, regardless of the reason or the process you use to pick them.

So for me, I have a new favorite RPG, and the reasons I give involve its great plot and modernized mechanics, overcoming those past memories that I hold dear for many of the older Dragon Quest titles. For others, they’ll have a completely different favorite title, and it may even be a game I dislike… and that’s alright, of course. All that matters is how we feel about them, even if they may be unspecified recommendations or start an argument about how one title can be better than another.

By Elizabeth Henges

I'm actually an accountant, but I like being a multifaceted nerd. I enjoy writing about nearly anything, but I'm partial to video games, cats, and trying to find neat little doodads.

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